Thursday, July 11, 2013

Traditional sourdough spotted in Shilin night market, Taipei

Being slightly jet-setty at the moment, I recently made a weekend trip to Taiwan to meet a friend in Taipei. I tried airbnb (it was a good experience) for the first time, and the apartment we rented for the weekend was close to the famous Shilin night market, so we went for a wander.

Look what we found! A bakery, open to the street that specialises in sourdough.

I think I was charmed first of all by the "green onion little cake" and the bean-filled breads that are probably the precursor of the Japanese anpan, and then I noticed it said sourdough..

The sign just outside the bakery explains in three languages that the "sour dough practice" is a traditional method of raising dough, from their ancestors.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't thought much about ancestral bread leavening practices in the far east. I must have been swayed by the national conversation in Japan about bread vs rice which generally deifies rice over bread as being more traditional and healthier, with possible slight undertones of bread being a dirty modern import (rightly so perhaps, have a look at this fascinating tale of the US's role in the increase in wheat consumption in Japan since the 1950s) Incidentally, it seems that bread is currently winning the battle in Japan with 2011 being the first year Japanese households spent more on bread than rice.

China however does appear to have a long tradition growing wheat and also of using sourdough culture to raise wheat products. The traditional Chinese characters used by the Shilin bakery (see below) were almost the same as the ones they used in the Japanese portion of the explanation.

Traditional Chinese for sourdough

How the bakery wrote it in Japanese 

老麺 / roumen these days in Japan is usually written in katakana and refers to the noodle soup dish of Chinese origin: ラーメン / ramen! Taken literally, the kanji above would mean old noodles, or perhaps 'old dough' if the word now used for 'noodles' (麺 / men) used to be a generic term for wheat dough used for any old purpose. Indeed, the second character includes the kanji for wheat (麦 / mugi) squeezed up in there on the left hand side. Perhaps this also means that various wheat-based Chinese doughs were traditionally raised by the sourdough method, including noodles. Wow a new synapse formed in my brain, I felt it! (In case you're wondering, sourdough is usually referred to as サワードウ / sawadou or 天然酵母 / tennen koubou in Japanese.)

We bought our "sour dough green onion breads" and ate them out of little paper bags walking round the market, trying to avoid the stalls selling stinky tofu. The bread was salty and delicious, with spring onions spread through the middle. When I go back sometime I'll have to try the sweet bean buns. A lovely discovery!

I don't have an address for the bakery, but it was on the outside edge of the market, along a main road, rather than inside the labyrinth of stalls. You'll come upon it soon after walking up to the market from the direction of Jiantan MRT station.

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